Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dev in charge of warlock and shaman changes in 2.4: mean, or just ignorant?

I should preface this with a disclaimer: I'm a Blizzard fanboy. I fell in love with them with Warcraft 2 and Starcraft, played the bejeezus out of Diablo, and was on the WoW train before anyone even knew what it looked like. I've loved that company since the first time I heard "My life for Aiur!" I have immense respect for their incredible ability to create beautifully-designed and balanced products that are a blast to play.

I'm not trying to personally insult them or call them names.

But they have to admit that a lot has changed there in the past few years. They've gone from being a smallish development community of a handful of critical-darling titles to a gigantic company handling the biggest, most famous, and most profitable video game in history. They also recently merged with Activision and, despite claims to the contrary, that's got to have some effect on the corporate culture over at Blizzard HQ.

Some of the great creators of the past games have left, and some new great (and not-so-great: I have a very low opinion of Tigole based on his design choices, interviews, and previous writings) developers have been hired with the ludicrous piles of cash we send to them every month.

So what is up with whichever dev is in charge of the shaman and warlock class changes in patch 2.4? Is it just a new guy? Is it the nephew of an Activision board member whom they were forced to hire? Or is he or she being purposely mean and disingenuous with the changes?

To paraphrase Tobold: if players aren't doing what you want them to, then you've made a design mistake. In large numbers, players will tend to make choices based on what gives them the most advantage within your game design.

Both the Life Tap and Flametongue changes betray a dangerous lack of understanding of the the mechanics of those classes. In the case of Life Tap, the mechanics of this core class spell have always encouraged warlocks to stack stamina, and not intellect. So the new version of the spell punishes warlocks for stacking stamina and rewards them for stacking intellect. Meanwhile, the current game mechanics require that enhancement shaman dual-wield the slowest weapons they can find to optimize their damage. A pair of slow weapons significantly raises damage from Windfury weapon and from Stormstrike, the two cornerstones of enhancement dps. In contrast, the mechanics of Flametongue and its new buff encourage the use of a fast offhand. So after a year of struggling to gather slow offhand weapons (they aren't as readily available as one might think: the earliest blue 2.6 speed offhand is actually in a heroic), enhancement shaman now need faster offhand weapons to get the most out of Flametongue, which will also weaken their Stormstrikes. At the same time, the change does not effect PvE, which means enhancement shaman will now have to keep two different offhands: a slow one for PvE and a fast one for PvP.

So what do you think? Are the devs who are making these changes willfully trying to strong-arm warlocks and shaman into completely changing their gearing style, without admitting that that is their goal? Or do they just have no idea what they are doing, and no understanding of the classes they are meddling with?

I really wish there was an answer here that didn't severely damage my faith in the developers.

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